(CAMP RIPLEY, Minnesota) – In the early 1930’s, a number of Americans found themselves jobless. The president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, as part of the New Deal agency, signed an executive order on May 6th, 1935 which created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) among other federal programs. The WPA’s goal was to provide one paid job for all families where the breadwinner suffered long-term unemployment. The program put those citizens back to work during the trying times of the Great Depression. The new workers constructed highways, schools, hospitals, and other public places. The impact that the WPA had on 8.5 million people who were struggling in the tough economy was immense.
Some of the men employed by WPA boarded trains headed to Camp Ripley to begin construction on the now-famous wall.
Wearing his grey WPA uniform, Jon gazes out the passenger train window. His leather backpack sits at his feet as he writes a letter to his wife, Mary, before arriving at Camp Ripley to help build the rock wall.
My dearest Mary,
I am taking the first moment of the day to express my love for you. I regret not saying goodbye before I boarded the train early this morning; you were too beautiful to awaken. It has been a long and dreary trip thus far; I suspect we will arrive to work shortly.
I know this will help our family greatly, but I am already missing you terribly. Your beauty is in everything. I see your face in tree lines across the countryside. I smell your fragrance on the sack lunch you packed. And, every time I close my eyes to rest, I feel your soft skin as you used to wrap your arms around me.
Until next time, my love
Camp Ripley’s black granite main gate was constructed by the WPA from 1935-1942. The stones were waste stones quarried from a nearby site in Freedhem. Philip Bettenburg, the architect, was inspired by the U.S. Army Engineer Crest when designing the entrance. The 3’x2’ perimeter wall spans 3,400-feet. The main entrance includes two 40-foot towers and two 16-foot gateposts.
My darling boy. My love for you could last for life…I want you, darling, seriously dig into your mind, and to look for once into the future. Imagine the time when you come home, and we are together again…
In the 1930’s it was very common for workers to send and receive letters, play card or dice games, or participate in sports during their free time. An exchange of letters from Jon and Mary Mueller brings into light a chivalrous act that many of us look past every time we enter the gates of Camp Ripley.
We have been working very hard lately and I am happy to say we are close to finishing. I cannot wait to get home to you and the children. I hope one day, we will travel here so I can show you the stone in the west tower. It resembles my heart and never-ending love for you,
Next time you enter Camp Ripley’s main gate, take some time to look at the west tower. Below the parapet is a heart shaped stone placed in the 1930’s by a man who loved his wife more than all of the time he spent on this planet.